It's very difficult to figure out what exactly the folks at WikiLeaks are thinking right now. The organization has responded strangely to news that an encrypted file containing over 250,000 leaked U.S. diplomatic cables--including the names of protected sources--has been available online for months. After a series of confusing denials, WikiLeaks blamed The Guardian for revealing the password to the leaked database and asked their Twitter followers if they should just go ahead and publish all of the cables anyways--including the names of protected sources. The supporters voted 100 to 1 in favor of publishing the documents, and despite vocal protest from news organizations and the State Department, WikiLeaks is getting ready to releasing everything.
The organization's collective response to the rogue document doesn't make a ton of sense, but we've come up with three competing interpretations.
1. WikiLeaks is trying to escape the blame of having leaked their most valuable information. It's not entirely clear how the encrypted database originally leaked online. Der Spiegel, a former WikiLeaks media partner, traces its existence back to when former WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg fled the organization to help found WikiLeaks rival OpenLeaks. According to their retelling, WikiLeaks looks like they really screwed up:
At the end of 2010, Domscheit-Berg finally returned to WikiLeaks a collection of various files that he had taken with him, including the encrypted cables. Shortly afterwards, WikiLeaks supporters released a copy of this data collection onto the Internet as a kind of public archive of the documents that WikiLeaks had previously published. The supporters clearly did not realize, however, that the data contained the original cables, as the file was not only encrypted but concealed in a hidden subdirectory.
Then, in the spring of 2011, Assange's external contact made public the password that he had received from Assange without realizing that this would allow access to the unredacted US cables. The slip-up remained undetected for several months.
WikiLeaks would have a hard time wiggling out of the accusation that they posted the document; by Spiegel's account, they did. So they're pointing their finger at the guy they say revealed the password: Guardian investigations editor David Leigh. According to WikiLeaks, Leigh published the password in his February 2011 book on WikiLeaks. The Guardian has denied that the details in the book could have actually helped people find the document. "It contained a password, but no details of the location of the files, and we were told it was a temporary password which would expire and be deleted in a matter of hours," the paper said in a statement. WikiLeaks later disputed the part about the temporary password, saying that the it could not be changed with the type of encryption process they used. Regardless of what really happened with the password, WikiLeaks is having some luck steering attention towards the The Guardian, and they're working hard on making them the villain here. "This is The Guardian's hacking scandal," they tweeted on Thursday.